Where are Ed Miliband's fairweather friends?

The Labour leader is being bitten by the mouths that until last week were praising him.

Come on then, where are you? Purveyors of the "new politics", advocates of the new progressive order. Your man is in trouble. Ed Miliband is getting what is known in technical parlance as a bloody good kicking. And yet you're silent. You plastic loyalists are nowhere.

We were all supposed to be rallying around, weren't we? Marching in step. "Back the leader" was the mantra. Back the leader until he does something significant we don't like; then we can cut him loose.

My Twitter account is strangely silent. There are no angry missives from chief lieutenant Peter Hain today.

"The strikes are a mistake," said Ed Miliband on Friday. Then, we waited for his loyal aides to follow up in support -- and we waited. "I don't think political leaders, in opposition or in government, should either applaud strikes or condemn strikes," said Hain on Sunday. Jesus. With friends like these...

Miliband is leader of the Labour Party. In my opinion, he hasn't been a particularly impressive leader of the Labour Party, but at the moment he's the only leader we've got. He's not going to become a better leader by backing the strike action. I support the strikers, and I've said so. I think they have right on their side, and I think they have a chance of victory.

But once Miliband became leader of the Labour Party, he relinquished the luxury of speaking out exclusively on behalf of those with whom he has empathy. Once he was elected Leader of the Labour Party, he took on the responsibility of speaking for the country.

You were the ones that elected him -- those of you who now cry betrayal the loudest. You put him in that position of responsibility. And having done so, you now chose to castigate him when he exercises it.

What did you think you were doing -- electing the president of a student union? This man is putting himself forward for the job of prime minister of the country. He can't pick up a placard and take a stroll along the picket lines.

I wish he could. I wish we did live in a country where the majority of our fellow citizens were members of a trade union, and shared their values and objectives, but many of our fellow citizens don't. We know that, because we're on the streets, and David Cameron and Nick Clegg are sitting around the table with their feet up, having a good laugh at Miliband being bitten by the mouths that until last week were praising him.

You didn't actually believe all this rubbish about the new politics, and no more triangulation, and no more pandering the press, did you? There is no "new politics". There never will be. There is only the same soul-destroying, self-crucifying struggle to push the boulder back to the top of the hill. You knew that when you signed up, when you joined the Labour Party, when you chose to make a difference.

So come on, fairweather friends. You talked a good game when the sun was shining and you were basking in the accolades of the progressive majority.

Now let's see what you're really made of. Your man'st in trouble. That means you: Sadiq Khan, Peter Hain, Jon Tricket, Chuka Umunna, Seamus Milne, Neal Lawson, Jacqui Ashley.

I'm standing up for Ed Miliband. Where the hell are you?

 

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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.